Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Nine

“Well,” Reagan greeted Wil, “It’s about time!”

Wil glanced around the blue table’s occupants in confusion but realized none of them seemed upset. In fact, several were smiling. Art laughed outright. Compared to Reagan’s laugh of earlier, his sounded from a well of authentic joy. “Relax, Wil,” he said. “No one’s mad.”

Wil tried to relax, but Reagan looked the way she’d sounded: mad at her. To Reagan’s right, Hope still smiled kindly. To Hope‘s right, Derek also smiled. Wil felt something flutter inside her and glanced in the safer direction of her clutched tray of food.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. She couldn’t help it.

Art rose and headed to another table. “You’re fine.” He grabbed a yellow chair. Carrying it and setting it between his chair and Stephen’s, he turned to Reagan and mouthed, Knock it off! Reagan rolled her eyes in response and continued the serious study of consuming her sack lunch. To Wil, Art turned halfway and gestured for her to sit. She did, sliding her food carefully onto the crowded surface.

“Maybe we’ll send Hope next time,” Derek teased.

Reagan snorted.

“You already had Hope deliver the note,” Stephen stated. His lunch was finished and he was in process of eating his dessert. Bits of chocolate cake clung to his fingertips and lip. “Did that fail?”

Reagan snorted again. “Didn’t you hear?”

“No. Hear what?”

The dramatic girl fixed him with a look. “About this morning?”

Stephen glanced around the table. The rest of his friends appeared bemused, though Wil appeared very interested in her chicken-like gravy. He shook his head in the negative, the gesture making him look like a nervous owl.

“Well!” Reagan began, in a tone of conspiracy, “This morning, right after Wil discovered her note, Ol’ Dr. L. decided to change things up in class.” She took a drink from her water bottle. Swallowed. She leaned forward a bit, then sat back up. “Actually, I think Wil should tell it.”

Wil gagged on her soggy green beans. Startled, Stephen observed Wil’s coughing and then smacked her on the back. Wil managed to wave him off and regain composure. “I…” she began, “I know Hope was there.”

The shy girl gave Wil a half-smile. “I was.” Wil sighed in relief. “But,” Hope added, “Dr. L. was in front of my view when I heard the yell.” Wil’s former optimism died.

“Yell?” Stephen asked. “Who yelled? Wil yelled?”

“No,” Wil said. “Well -maybe yes.” Everyone stared at her. She blushed. She didn’t know how she’d been talked into this but saw she couldn’t back out now. “Carl Hurn yelled. His frien- Harry yelled. That girl probably did, too.” She stirred at her stale rice with a bandaged hand. “You see: she’d just gotten our supplies from the closet and set them on her desk. Carl said something like, ‘I know what to do,’ before heading over and tripping or something and crashing right into her…”

 

Continued from Eighty-Eight.
Keep reading to Ninety.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Eight

Yeah,” Wil said. “Harry.” She adjusted her backpack the best she could and glanced over at Reagan’s face. The girl appeared to be somewhere besides the crowded common room they were about to cross. “You all right, Reagan?”

Reagan’s eyes followed a blue spoon-shaped artwork on the wall before she returned Wil’s attentions. “What?”

“I asked,” Wil stressed the word, “If you were all right.”

A few teenagers brushed past them. “Hm …yeah,” Reagan answered. Another group walked between them, eyeing them; sending a nonverbal query as to why the two girls obstructed the base of the stairs.

“Oh.” Wil thought to elaborate; decided against it. “Well!” she said in a brighter tone, “Should we go see what the others want?”

“Oh!” Reagan blinked. “The thingie! -Yeah, Wil, let’s go!” She grabbed for Wil’s backpack again, but Wil was quick enough to pull it away this time.

“I’ll walk faster without the dragging.”

Reagan faced her, hand on hip and frown on face. “Alright.” Her tone did not sound convinced.

Wil smiled in innocence and started forward at a fairly quick pace. Pockets of chattering pupils and phone-hypnotized stragglers stood between her and the hallway to the lunchroom stairwell. She would have preferred a slower pace, but chose this over Reagan’s alternative.

With only a few stumbles and accidental shoulder-bumping, she and her impatient friend made it across. They turned and rushed down the stairs. Wil had enough spare thought to admire Reagan’s graceful descent compared to her own pell-mell lunges before she made it to the bottom without accident.

“Reagan,” she called, out of breath, just before the girl’s shadow turned the corner. The shadow stopped and looked to turn back. Wil stood and walked forward. “I. have. to. get. lunch. first,” she managed to say.

Reagan responded with another hand on hip pose. Wil took it as permission and headed to the counters.

“I’ll tell them you’re coming,” Reagan called. She left. Wil sighed in relief.

“What’s it today, dearie?” the smiling lunchlady asked. Her hair net head appeared more edible than the fare she offered, but Wil frowned and considered the options anyway. She needed to hurry, before Reagan changed her mind.

 

Continued from Eighty-Seven.
Keep reading to Eighty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty

Wil contemplatively chewed on what may have been a carrot.  She was happily absorbed in the remainder of her crossword, and ate without tasting her least favorite meal the school provided: meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

CENTRAL connected with FLOWER and left space for AB and BOTTLE. Lower down, however, SEED wasn’t working with HAND. She hadn’t heard whatever quote was listed for that clue. As such, Wil would have just skipped those few blank squares and moved on. Unfortunately, the beginning letter was important.

After reading over the paper in the locker room before Gym class before lunch, Wil had noticed that some squares had a darker outline. She guessed they formed key letters of a puzzle that would give her a message once she had them all.

She absentmindedly scooped up some instant potatoes, and tried to think as she slurped them off her spoon. “One in the hand is worth two in the what?” She said quietly.

The barely glinting sunlight outside the tinted doors shone randomly on the courtyard beyond. She watched its dance and remembered stepping around the silent area just yesterday. Wil cut off a piece of soggy meat, placed it in her mouth, chewed a bit, and swallowed.

Slowly, she repeated, “One in the hand is worth two in the …?”

“Bush,” an old woman’s voice near her finished.

Startled out of her reverie, Wil looked to the speaker. To her left hunched one of the lunch ladies who patrolled the cafeteria. The woman’s face looked just like the pre-packaged croissants they served sometimes, if one added two beady eyes and gray curls under a hair net to the top.

“Oh,” Wil stammered. “Uh, thank you.”

The creases turned upward as the older woman’s small eyes lit up slightly. “Oh, you’re welcome, dear.” Lunchlady Croissant turned thick-soled off-white sneakers around, and went back to her usual duty of glaring at irresponsible teenagers. Wil heard bits of something about kids these days and old sayings.

Remembering her task at hand, she turned back to her paper. “B-U-S-H,” She intoned as she wrote. Her key letter was B.

Excitedly, she penciled in more and more answers. The contents of her lunch tray diminished as the spaces filled with letters and Wil’s stomach filled with substance. She washed the bad taste down with milk and viewed the results happily.

Capitals boldly filled every black square, interlocking and completing chains and paths of words. The crossword was finished; at least, she was fairly certain it was.

She scanned the chart in traditional Arabic writing fashion of left to right and wrote the key letters at the bottom of the page: T, M, E, E, Y, B, R, R, L, I, A, B, Y, R, E, F, A, T, S, C, H, O, O, L.

The bell and the recognition of yet another puzzle punctured Wil’s spirits like a small cut near the base of a latex balloon. She stuffed the paper and her pencil into her binder, and gathered her lunch things together.

She carried her tray over to the washing area, where she once again saw the helpful worker. “Thanks, dear,” Lunchlady said, and Wil was more certain of a smile this time.

Smiling a rare, truly pleasant response, Wil went back to collect her things from the table.

 

Continued from Twenty-Nine.
Keep reading to Thirty-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

3 Paragraph Story: Zombie Lunchlady

Doris stood there, hand on hip, trying to figure out what to say. She’d already used up most of her standby phrases; things like, “Don’t forget, employees must wash their hands,” and “A smile will go a long way.” What worked for all the other ladies had not worked for this newest employee.

“Wash your hands” had led to the new hire carefully removing one hand, rinsing it, reattaching it somewhat sloppily, then attempting to repeat the process with the other one. Encouraging her to smile had sent the entire first grade screaming and running away from the queue.

Today, Doris had come to school ready for whatever came to mind. She’d thought to ask her fellow long-timers what they suggested. Looking hopelessly around the group, however, she realized they would not have any suggestions for the new girl. Rather, she had rubbed off on them already. They stood in a similar posture to hers, listlessly lolling their heads about and groaning. Doris cleared her throat anyway. Alerted, they all began shambling closer.